Should You Buy a Refurbished Phone?

A pre-owned model can be a great deal—as long as you know what to look for

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A refurbished phone can be a great option for anyone looking for significant savings—especially these days, when the price of a new model can easily exceed $1,000.

On Apple’s website, for example, you can purchase a refurbished iPhone 11 with 128 gigabytes of storage for $469. A new iPhone 11 with that much space costs $549. The iPhone 11 Pro? That one is $919 (with 512GB of storage), down from $1,199. You can no longer buy the model new.

Samsung offers a refurbished Galaxy S20 for $475, and that’s pretty much the only way to get one of those. All three of the S20 models scored well in Consumer Reports’ labs, but they were discontinued last year. Buying the latest version, the Galaxy S22, will cost you $850.

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In addition to the savings, buying a refurbished phone is good for the environment, because it extends the lifespan of the device, keeping it out of landfills. According to Back Market, a marketplace for renewed devices, purchasing a refurbished phone instead of a new one saves, on average, 45 kilograms of CO2 emissions and 34 to 40 kg of raw materials.

Sounds great, right? Here’s what you need to keep in mind to make a smart purchase.

Know What You’re Buying

Not every company defines “refurbished” the same way. The bottom line is that you’re buying a pre-owned phone, one that someone probably bought a year or two ago and either returned or traded in for a discount on a new device.

There’s usually a difference, though, between a refurbished phone and a used phone you might find on eBay or Craigslist. The refurbished phones offered by manufacturers, cell phone carriers, and major retailers such as Amazon and Walmart are generally “certified,” which means they’ve been inspected and often upgraded to make sure they’re in good working condition.

The refurbished iPhones sold directly by Apple—online and in its stores—are restored with the same replacement parts used in new models, the company says. They come with a new battery, a new outer shell, new cables and accessories, and even a fresh white box. Refurbished iPhones are backed by a 1-year warranty, too.

Samsung uses similar standards for the refurbished phones it sells. It promises restoration to “like new” condition, with a new battery and a 1-year warranty.

Not all sellers strive for that level of quality, though, so it’s best to look for items that have been certified in some way. Many retailers even explain on their websites the guidelines for that certification.

If they don’t, ask for information on the inspection and restoration process, specifically whether it includes battery replacement, the standard accessories, and parts supplied by the manufacturer. At times a seller may cut corners, for example, by offering a cheap third-party charger.

Make Sure You’re Protected

Avoid refurbished products that come without a warranty. Apple and Samsung guarantee their refurbished phones for a full year. At Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart, the warranty is good for only 90 days.

It’s worth checking your credit card company’s policies, too. Many will extend coverage on refurbished goods as long as they come with a warranty.

Ask About the Return Policy

If there’s a technical problem with the phone, it may take time to show up. When you receive the device, be sure to test it thoroughly, including looking for cosmetic flaws.

We also recommend going with a retailer that gives you at least a month to return the item. Amazon’s Renewed Guarantee offers up to 90 days to return the product for a refund or replacement. The Apple Store and Best Buy give you only two weeks to change your mind. Just like with warranties, though, your credit card company might help you out here if a retailer refuses to accept your return.

Headshot of CR author Melanie Pinola

Melanie Pinola

As a service journalist, my goal is to help people get the most out of their technology and other tools. Prior to joining CR, my work appeared online and in print for publications including The New York Times, Wirecutter, Lifehacker, Popular Mechanics, and PCWorld. When I'm not researching or writing, I'm playing video games with my family, testing new recipes, or chasing the puppy. Feel free to reach me on Twitter (@melaniepinola).